|Jean Restout II, Ananias Restoring the Sight of St. Paul (1719)|
In the Book of Acts, a man named Saul was on his way with a band of Sanhedrin-authorized thugs to kidnap Christians in Damascus and haul them back to imprisonment or death in Jerusalem. Then he saw a vision of Jesus, and he discovered that he was bound not only to serve this Jesus as Lord and Messiah, not only to be connected as a brother to the very people he was doggedly hunting down, but even to have a special mission to bring the good news about Jesus to unclean Gentiles that he had never met and would never dream of associating with.
Three days later, a Christian in Damascus named Ananias was praying and saw a vision of Jesus, and he discovered that Saul had been completely turned around and that he, Ananias, was to pray for him in person to regain his sight. When he entered the place where Saul was staying, he addressed him as "Brother Saul."
In the following chapter, a Roman officer in Caesarea named Cornelius saw a vision of an angel that told him to send messengers to Joppa to bring back a man named Peter. Peter saw a vision of a weird sheet full of all sorts of animals being lowered from heaven and heard a voice call them clean to eat, because God can call the unclean clean. When the messengers showed up at his door, Peter heard the voice tell him to go with them. When he got to Cornelius's house and heard the Roman's story, he saw that God doesn't play favorites but accepts the person from any and every nation who fears him and does what is right. Then he saw Cornelius and his household filled with the Holy Spirit, and he saw that if Jesus saw fit to baptize them in the Holy Spirit, then surely he shouldn't withhold baptism in water. Suddenly the Christian movement extended beyond the borders of Judaism.
A few chapters later, Saul (known as Paul now) was wandering through modern-day Turkey, prohibited by the Spirit to announce the good news in all these places that had never heard it. Then once he got to the Aegean Sea, he saw a vision of a man of Macedonia, across the water, urging him to come and help them. A few days later, the good news had a new foothold in Europe.
There are so many barriers between people in the world—barriers of prejudice, of conviction, of custom, of affinity, and of mere routine. Whether obvious or covert, what surmounts the barriers is a willingness to go and do the unnatural thing, and what spawns that willingness is a vision from God of the strangers who turn out not to be so very different from us after all: people with the same desperate need of the salvation in the name of Jesus Christ and the same surprising craving to receive it.